cost of living canada

Canadian shares why she moved to Taiwan to pay off her debts

As moving abroad becomes an appealing option for Canadians who want to stretch their dollar further, one woman is sharing her experience living in Taiwan for 10 years.

Rebecca "Becky" Marie Martin is a 45-year-old business owner who lives in Kitchener, Ontario. Martin runs a window cleaning business with her husband, Craig Wesley Schmidt. Although the couple has been back in Canada for nearly seven years, they still have fond memories of living abroad.

Martin recalls the ups and downs of expat life, why they moved back to Canada, and the lessons she learned along the way.

A fresh start

Martin said she and her husband moved to Taiwan twice for the same reason.

"After I had left college, I was drowning in student loans, and we couldn't keep ahead of them," she said. So when an old college roommate suggested teaching English in Taiwan, the couple took a course to teach English and moved to Chiayi, Taiwan, in 2002. And the decision paid off.

"We were able to pay off a $40,000 debt in one year," said Martin.

After living there for two and a half years, the pair returned to Canada and got married. Without jobs, the two drove across Canada to Vancouver for their honeymoon, where they lived for six months before returning to Martin's family home in Port Albert, Ontario.

They moved several times within Ontario before starting a home daycare business in Stratford, Ontario. However, as the recession hit in 2009, they started losing clients, and the couple began accumulating debt.

"So we decided on Taiwan again, this time with the intention of staying very long-term," recalled Martin. "We were able to pay off $45,000 in about a year and a half."

At the time, they were living in Zhongli, a city near Taipei. However, six months later, they moved back to Chiayi, where they would spend seven years.

Life abroad

Life in Taiwan couldn't be more different from life in Ontario.

"Craig and I called it Dr. Seuss land because there was nothing familiar to our Canadian senses: the weather, the smells, the food, the language, the education, the music, the culture," she said. "It was overwhelming but very exciting. Every second that you spent outside your door was an adventure."

As for the cost of living, she said, "the comparison is laughable."

For just $350 a month, they rented a four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment overlooking a lake, mountains, and jungle. Monthly utilities cost them an additional $100, and filling their scooter tank with gas only costs them $3 a week.

cost of living canada

The balcony view from their four-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Taiwan (Supplied)

However, she noted that life in Taiwan is cheap "on an expat salary."

Food costs were also drastically lower.

"Most homes didn't have an oven because most people didn't cook because it was so cheap to eat out at every meal for mere dollars a day," said Martin.

Despite Canada's universal healthcare, she said the difference is "embarrassing."

"The healthcare was fantastic, and I miss it desperately," she said. "With a job, medical, dental, prescriptions, everything was covered, and there was a doctor and dentist on every corner with minutes' wait time. If you needed to see a specialist, you could see one within days."

But being an expat also came with challenges.

Travelling to Taiwan was expensive, and they had to furnish their apartment. They also had to do frequent "visa runs" to Hong Kong and Thailand to get working visas.

Martin said it was easy to get by without speaking Mandarin but found that the language barrier separated them from the people and the culture and limited them to the expat community.

Over time, the couple missed the independence of communicating with others without relying on someone else. But most of all, they missed their family.

"We struggled for many years whether to move back to Canada, but we couldn't stomach the cost of living compared to Taiwan," Martin recalled. "However, the value of time with our family eventually outweighed the value of the dollar."

Looking back

It's been seven years since Martin and Schmidt returned to Canada, where they have a sense of independence that they didn't have in Taiwan.

"A huge con of Taiwan was that, as an expat, you'd never be anything other than an English teacher; there was no other role for you," said Martin.

"This frustrated me after many years. I wanted the choice to choose a career direction, but I could not do that in Taiwan. I've had seven different jobs since moving back to Canada seven years ago."

When she shares their life experience abroad with others, most people say they'd be too scared to do what they did.

Her advice for people considering moving abroad: "Do it! I think a lot of people live small lives. It's comfortable, predictable and familiar, and they like to know what to expect."

Martin said they have no plans to move again, but the experience changed her, and the challenges forced her to grow.

"With taking risks and getting on the other side of them, however way that looks, you prove to yourself that you are so much more than you think," she said. "And that's a lesson that everyone needs to learn."


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